Exit Strategy

by London Lampy

Chapter 12

I'm sure Topher's asleep but I decide to give it another few minutes for safety. He spent most of the last couple of hours in the captains bedroom, which at least gave me the chance to go to the bathroom and deal with the unpleasant business of retrieving the lock picks.

I know that sooner or later Quint is going to want me in his bed, it's become obvious that's why he took me, and I'm not sure how I feel about this. On one hand he's my kidnapper, he's had me chained up, taken away my freedom, threatened me and made me share a room with someone who wishes me dead. On the other hand he's really sexy. When he stroked my tail earlier I can't pretend I didn't enjoy it, or want more.

I watch Topher sleep, he really is very pretty now he's not scowling. His full lips are slightly parted and close up his skin is incredibly dark smooth, with his small straight nose and sooty lashes lying on his cheeks he looks very kissable. It's a shame he's such an irritable brat.

I decide I've waited long enough, it's now or never. I slide out of bed as quietly as I can, grab my trousers and shirt and take them to the bathroom to get dressed. There's no electricity, or even gas in the house and the hallway is lit by a small flickering oil lamp, which makes me grateful that I can see well in the dark.

Once I've changed I creep downstairs and out of the door, that thankfully is still not locked. I suppose no one is going to try to break in and rob the captain as everyone on the island is something to do with the pirates.

I keep to the shadows and carefully make my way to the building I saw the sailors taken to earlier, creeping around the back I find an open window and climb inside. From what I remember being told they are held in the basement, but if I want to find some sort of hard evidence that the pirates are linked to the Northern Continent cartel I am going to have to look for that first.

Slipping in through an open window I find myself in a hallway at the bottom of a staircase, there is no light apart from the moonlight shining through the windows, so when I hear voices coming toward me it is quite easy to slide into the shadows. Two figures come out of the room opposite, one of them is carrying a small lantern, he has a long red beard, and red hair worn in dozens of tiny braids with beads on the ends. At first I think the second man is Captain Quint and my mouth goes dry, but then I realise that he's shorter, stockier and older looking, and has short unkempt seeming hair, although they are similar in face and colouring and I wonder if they are related.

The two of them don't see me and I hold my breath as they pass by and climb the stairs, talking softly to one another. There's no way I can go up there now and I swear silently. I consider going straight back to Quint's house, but decide to check out this floor and try to find Vio as well. I put my ear against the door that they came out of and hear nothing so I open it a crack. No one else seems to be inside and I stick my head in and have a look, it turns out to be a dining room with the remains of a meal of bread and cold meat on the table. There are three other doors off the hallway to try, one leads to a very large reception room, almost a ballroom, that takes up a whole side of the building with glass doors leading out to a patio, one is a cupboard full of brooms and mops, and the last has a set of stone steps leading downwards, undoubtedly to the gaol. I was told that the sailors weren't kept guarded but my heart is still hammering in my chest as I descend, I don't even want to think about what would happen to me if I get caught.

The room at the bottom is lit by a pair of oil lamps that cast deep shadows, the air feels damp and warm, and it smells like a sewer. There are three barred cells that appear to be carved into rock foundations, all three are packed full of the freighter's crew, and those that are awake turn to look at me. Vio is sat with her back against the wall in the nearest cell, and as soon as she sees me she jumps up and clambers over several protesting men to get to the bars.

"Exit! Am I fucking glad to see you, are you all right? What have the bastards been doing with you?" She rapidly questions me.

"I'm fine, they've done nothing much except make me share a room with a moody Surosian."

"Huh." She laughs without humour. "All Surosians are fucking moody, is he another prisoner?"

I try and explain the situation as I understand it, and she looks increasingly concerned.

"Fuck, a captains pet? That's not good, you do realise what he's going to expect of you don't you?"

"Yeah." I shrug. "It could be worse, it's not like I'm a virgin or anything." I don't add that I've kind of got the hots for the captain, I think she would find that weird.

"But still..." She replies. "Oh shit! Vin is going to kill me." She covers her face with her hands.

"It's hardly your fault." I try to console her.

"I know, but he put me in charge, and he takes particular responsibility for you, seeing as he's the sole reason for you working as an almost totally untrained investigator."

It's true, most investigators have to go through a selection process with dozens of others to get in, and they've all already got some sort of career or training behind them. I was employed at the power station to climb up the chimneys and clear blockages, or shoo pigeons off the overhead girders, or generally do any high up jobs that the other workers didn't want to do. One day Vin came in on an official visit with Sampson and saw me sat on the roof beams overhead. The next week I found myself sitting in his office signing a contract.

"Fuck." Vio says, slamming her hand against the cell bars. "This mission has gone totally tits up."

"Maybe not totally, I tried to get into the offices upstairs to look for the evidence to tie them to the cartel, but two men went up before I could. I don't think I can risk it now, but I can try again tomorrow night, after that the captains going back out to sea and taking me with him."

"Exit, don't even fucking think about it, it's far too dangerous. You shouldn't even be here now, what if the Surosian boy notices you're missing, from the sound of it I doubt he'd hesitate to tell the captain."

"He was asleep when I left." I point out.

"And sleeping people never wake up? Whatever you do don't cause any trouble, no heroics, just keep your head down until we get you out of here."

I hadn't planned to try fighting back, there's one of me and hundreds of them, and keeping my head down is something I'm very good at.

"I suppose I had better get back." I sigh, I don't really want to go, who knows when I'll see her again.

"Before you go, I don't suppose you've got my smokes on you, or any fucking smokes at all?"

"Sorry, no." I smile.

"Ah, it was a fucking long shot." She shakes her head, then reaches her hand to me through the bars to hold mine.

"I promise to get you out of here and make those bastards pay. No one gets away with kidnapping our monkey boy." She squeezes my hands as she says this.

"See you later partner." I say.

"Yeah, see you later. Be safe." She replies.

As I turn and go, I have to swallow a lump in my throat.

I make my way carefully back to Quint's house and let myself inside. It's still quiet and dark so I assume no one has noticed I was gone. I go into the bathroom and wash my feet as I'm sure Topher would notice in the morning if they were dirty then change back out of my clothes. I cautiously open the bedroom door, drop my clothes on the floor and climb back into bed. Topher rolls over and his eyes open.

"Where have you been?" He asks sleepily.

"Bathroom." I say, hoping he's only just woken up.

"Huh." He grunts but says nothing else, and within a minute his breathing suggests he's gone back to sleep.

The next morning I'm woken up by Topher poking me hard in the shoulder, and I grumble at him.

"You need to get up, the captain wants you to take a bath and there's hot water in the tub. I've already used it."

Yuck. In the orphanage we used to have to share bathwater, if you were at the end of the line it was cold, grey and sludgy by the time you got in.

"Can't I just run another one?" I ask.

"You really are stupid. We don't have hot water on tap, it takes the maid and hour to heat and fill the bath."

He's dressed in nothing but a towel that's sitting on his hips, and I notice that he has silver bangles around both wrists and ankles, all of them fitted with D rings. He also has a small silver hoop in through his navel, I've never seen anything like that before and he catches me staring.

"What?" He asks, glaring at me.

I roll out of bed, wishing I wasn't naked in front of him, but I suppose I'm going to have to get used to it, for now, I have to trust that Vio will find a way to get me home.

The bath water is still warm and only a little murky, and I'm lying back in it trying to sort my thoughts out when when the door opens and I'm glad to see it's the captain, not Topher.

"Good morning Exit, did you sleep well?" He asks, coming into the room and sitting on the side of the bath. He's wearing nothing but a pair of loose fitting black cotton trousers with his hair upbraided and hanging loose half way down his back. He has a long scar just below his ribs that looks like he was stabbed, and another just below his collar bone that could be from a bullet, apart from those he has smooth brown skin stretched over taught muscles.

I tear my eyes away and stare at my feet, trying hard not to think about what it would be like to touch him.

"Did you sleep well?" He asks again.

"Yes thank you." I reply, trying not to embarrass myself further.

"Good, Magda will be up here soon to take your measurements, hopefully she can get something made before we need to leave tomorrow, you can't keep wearing that uniform."

He puts his hand into the bath and swirls the water around. "Have you ever worked on a sailing ship before?"

"No, yours is the first one I've ever been on."

"The Firebrat's one of a kind, you'll find a sailing ship very different from a steamer, that's just engine power and steering, with sails you need to feel the ship and learn to respond to her moods."

Of course, he thinks I'm a sailor, I hadn't thought of that.

"I'd only just started working on the freighter, that was my first trip." I say quickly.

"Do you want to learn to sail properly? Tallis is keen to teach you, I think he likes the idea of having another echoback aloft to keep him company."

I'm not sure I'm that interested in learning how to sail, but I'd like to get to know Tallis, and it would keep me out of Topher's way.

"Yes, please." I say.

"You're very polite aren't you? Maybe you could teach Topher some manners. Of course when you're royalty you don't actually need them, I think that's the problem with him."

Topher's royalty?

He stands up and gives me a thoughtful look. "I have some business to attend to with my father and brother today, but I'll be back by this evening, I've got a gift I would like to give to you then. The maid will see you get fed and Topher knows where everything is, I'll get him to give you a tour of the island."

I'd rather not have a tour from him, but I don't feel I can say this to Quint, he's being nice now but I still remember how he was about me not wanting to get my tail out.

He leans over, kisses me on the top of the head and leaves the room. I sink right down in the water, stare at the ceiling and try and work out how the hell my life just got so complicated.

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